Augustine hasn’t seen her six-year-old daughter in over a year. She has steeled herself for the worst. “There is no hope,” she says. “I will never see my daughter again.”
Displaced by fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Tanganyika province, Augustine is now living at a site for internally displaced people in the provincial capital, Kalemie. She’s one of many anxious and grieving parents here.
“The rebels come into our villages, they take our children and disappear with them,” she says. “They rape the girls and cut them in small pieces with machetes.”
Fifty-two-year-old Ndiba Kaité counts herself among the lucky few. Her five teenage daughters were kidnapped in December 2016 and held captive for five months in the bush, where they were starved, beaten and abused.
"The day I found my children I was happy, because most of those who were abducted never came back.”
Ndiba led a desperate search to find her missing children. Eventually, with help from aid groups, she was able to negotiate their release. But the severe physical and psychological trauma her daughters endured haunts them still.
“When I found them, they were in a terrible state,” she said. “They were so thin. Their feet were wounded. Their colour had changed. Their eyes were filled with sadness. But the day I found my children I was happy, because most of those who were abducted never came back.”
People fleeing for their lives in Tanganyika province – an area three times the size of Switzerland – have shared stories of horrific violence with protection monitoring staff working for a UNHCR partner organization. They incude killings, abductions and rapes carried out as their villages came under attack.
More and more children are being reported missing as the displacement crisis worsens. Their number is unknown, but humanitarian workers think that there are thousands of cases.
UNHCR and its partners are regularly visiting the displacement sites, helping to identify unaccompanied and separated children, so that they can be better protected and eventually reunified with their parents.